Overland Park’s iFly lets me try skydiving — indoors

The constant whoosh inside the 14-foot-wide wind tunnel at iFly makes conversation impossible. High-efficiency axial fans create a column of air powerful enough to suspend most humans in midair — and loud enough to suggest a plane taking off at your elbow, or a train bearing down on you. All of your senses are immediately overwhelmed by the stunning ferocity of the engineering achievement at hand. And what it’s going to allow you to do.

I’d stopped by the recently opened Overland Park business knowing that the idea was flight, but I didn’t really know what to expect. Now, I’d donned a helmet, earplugs, goggles and a stylish blue jumpsuit that made me feel like a NASCAR driver, and I was standing just outside what looked like a three-story pneumatic tube. I’d practiced several hand signals with my flight instructor, Jeremy Streumph, who would let me know when I needed to bend my knees, lift my chin, or, you know, just relax.

“Are you ready to fly?” he shouted. Then he signaled for me to lean forward. Scratch that — fall forward. It took me back to the old “trust fall” game played at Girl Scout camp, except this time there was definitely no one to catch me.

To my surprise, I didn’t immediately faceplant on the ground — or get sucked to the top, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style, threatened by the blades of an overhead fan. Instead, I hovered rather peacefully, my arms outstretched like Superman. Still, I was afraid to look down.

So went my first first pseudo-skydiving experience, shepherded by the perpetually grinning Streumph, who transmits the easygoing affect common to adrenaline junkies. Sure, his own skydiving stunts are rad, but no big deal, you know? He told me he’d jumped out of more than 3,000 planes. This is how he spent his time and his money.

When iFly announced it would open in the metro, Streumph packed up and moved from Lawrence to Kansas City — and every day, he’s glad he made that decision. Before my flight, he pointed to his co-workers, who were jumping, flipping and diving inside the wind tunnel, as graceful as dolphins in the water.

“This is what we do in our downtime,” he said. “I know it’s cliché, but my job doesn’t feel like work to me.”

When I confessed to Streumph that I was a little nervous about trying it, he assured me I’d be perfectly safe. As evidence, he revealed the ages of the youngest and oldest people he’d accompanied into the wind tunnel: a 3-year-old boy, and a 103-year-old man. OK, I thought — if someone who was literally alive when airplanes were invented can do this, I can, too.

The only barrier is the price — at $69.95 for two 60-second flights, practicing dives and barrel rolls at iFly will probably not be a regular indulgence for most of us. But if you want to experience skydiving without actually jumping out of a plane, Streumph says the iFly experience is “spot-on” at replicating the feel — plus you get bragging rights and a colorful flight certificate to stick to your refrigerator. No big deal, right?

On my third and final flight of the day, instead of letting me quiver awkwardly just above the floor, Streumph helped me get some air. He grabbed hold of my jumpsuit and guided me up and down while spinning gracefully in circles. Though I got a bit dizzy, this superhero-style gliding was my favorite part of the experience. Another first-time flyer I chatted with agreed, saying the idea of skydiving terrified him, but he could handle this.

When I exited the wind tunnel, giddy and giggling, Streumph told me I personified his favorite part of the job.

“It’s pure, unadulterated joy,” he said. “I love giving people that experience.”

Then he darted into the tunnel, ran up the side of the wall, and dived headfirst toward the floor, stopping just in time.

Categories: News